Emotion Coaching: A walk in the park
MANAGING A FEARFUL CHILD AND AN EXCITABLE DOG
This reflective log was recently shared with us. It demonstrates a skillful use of Emotion Coaching tools in an unpredictable situation.
"I was in the park walking my dog when he ran over to a small child who was running around and jumped up at her.
The child started screaming and running away which in turn led to my dog chasing after her and jumping even more as he thought she was playing.
I called my dog but he didn’t come back straight away. It took me a few attempts before he returned to me.
I was cross with my dog, and embarrassed that it looked as though my dog was out of control and not responding to my commands. I was also fearful that the child would get hurt somehow. I thought the child was feeling quite panicked and scared.
When my dog came back to me and he was safely back on his lead, I went over to the child and her parents and bent down to the child but kept my dog on a very short lead close to me and said: ‘I bet you were really scared then, I’m sorry that my dog ran over to you. I would be really scared, too, if a big dog came over to me that I didn’t know and started barking and jumping up…’
The child stopped crying. I said to the child and her mum: 'Would you like to stroke the dog now? He’s a nice dog, and likes it when little girls are calm and gentle…he won’t bark now…’
The child was reluctant at first, but I showed her how to gently stroke him, and she held my hand and stroked him with me. She then started to giggle.
The child’s mum said: ‘Thank you. I really liked how you went down to her level and said that you understood that she might feel scared…I thought you were going to be angry and blame her for making your dog even more excited…it’s amazing how quickly she recovered from that.’
This was a great lesson for me in using Emotion Coaching in many areas of my life/work.
I understood that the child would have been scared and the parent might have been angry, and by being attuned to this and using EC language in a potentially very emotionally-charged situation, I was able to calm both the mother and the child.
This resolved the situation very quickly and by supporting her to stroke him when everyone was calm perhaps ensured the child did not become scared of dogs.
I learnt that adults also respond really well to EC in stressful situations, and when we chatted for a few minutes, the mother did comment on how my calm manner and gentle approach was really effective. We actually laughed about it as she said she ‘could do with some lessons!’'
Reflecting on this scenario is is evident how the steps of Emotion Coaching overlap with ideas of attachment, where secure attachment is promoted if we feel the '4 Ss'. - Seen, Soothed, Safe and Secure.
Emotion Coaching 4Ss of Attachment
1. Recognising the child's feelings and empathising with them 1. Seen
2. Labelling the feelings and validating them 2. Soothed
3. Teach or outline the behaivour that is appropriate (if needed) 3. Safe
4. Problem-solve with the child. 4. Secure
In this instance, we can see that our adult was aware of the child and her parent's emotions and also aware of the emotions this situation was giving rise to in her (Step 1 of Emotion Coaching). Our adult went over to the child and parent to check that they were okay (the child and parents would have felt 'seen' by our adult).
Our adult labelled and validated the emotions the child was feeling (Step 2 of Emotion Coaching). Labelling helps start the soothing process as the child is not feeling blamed for the challenging emotions she experienced.
When the child was calm, our adult engaged in problem solving with the child (Step 4 of Emotion Coaching) by showing her how to pat the dog to manage this moment of fear. This act helped the child to continue to feel safe and secure in the park environment where there were other dogs. Throughout this encounter our adult was aware of the impact of her nonverbal communication - a calm quiet tone of voice and slow purposeful movements - on people's sense of feeling soothed and safe.
A simple example from everyday life, where there was a lot going on from an interpersonal neurobiology perspective. Small attuned encounters and interactions can make a real difference to people!